Westword feature subject Jamie Moyer is baseball's unlikeliest story. At 49, and coming off of major elbow surgery, he's not only become the oldest player ever to win a game, he's also managed to pitch well enough to be considered the Rockies's ace, though that may say just as much about the Rockies's other starters as it does about him.
Nevertheless, none of this would have ever happened had the Baltimore Orioles stayed true to their word.
Last fall, Moyer and his agent invited a number of major league teams to come watch him pitch. He was hoping to sign a contract, preferably with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, because he, his wife and their eight kids had recently moved to San Diego, and an offer from Anaheim would have meant the ability to drive to and from some home games.
The Angels' scout was impressed -- he wrote to his bosses that Moyer could still "hit a gnat's ass" -- but the team's rotation was already set. That left two clubs competing for Moyer: the Baltimore Orioles and the Rockies.
Moyer has a soft spot for Baltimore. Although it's on the other side of the country, it's also where he first tasted professional success and, at age thirty, began what would become a remarkable career turnaround.
What Moyer wanted most of all was an opportunity. Specifically, a major league contract. And for a time it looked as if Baltimore was going to give it to him. Then the Orioles hired Dan Duquette.
There are a few important things to note here. First, the Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1998. Second, before he was hired as the team's general manager, Duquette had been out of baseball for a decade and had been running a sports academy in Hinsdale, Massachusetts. His most recent brush with the major leagues had come a few years earlier, when he was cast in a community theater production of Damn Yankees. He also had a history with Moyer.
In 1996, Moyer was the Boston Red Sox go-to long reliever, and Duquette its GM. Moyer didn't enjoy his time in Boston, and not just because of Duquette. Like many a player before him, he was turned off by the savage nature of the local press corps: "They were there to bury us when we lost, and nobody was there when we won," he says today. He was also dismayed by the team's chaotic clubhouse.
"There were no rules," he says of the club, which was filled with notoriously me-first veterans like Jose Canseco and Roger Clemens, and a lax manager named Kevin Kennedy. "It was mayhem.... The pager and the cell phone was just coming into the scene. We'd have team meetings and pagers are going off, phones are going off. It was like, 'Really?'"
Moyer was also unhappy with his role. In Baltimore, he'd proven, or thought he'd proven, that he could be a capable starting pitcher. After going 7-1 to start the season, he thought he'd shown the same in Boston. But instead, he was the team's long man -- the guy on mop-up duty during a blowout, or a starter only if someone else's shoulder was sore.
Baseball players -- especially pitchers, and most especially Moyer -- are creatures of habit. Not knowing when he'd come out of the bullpen and when he'd start was wearing on him. "I was miserable because I was the sixth man in a five-man rotation," he says. "I had no job description."
So one day Moyer called Duquette in hopes of gaining an audience with his boss. The two set up a meeting for 3 p.m. the next day in the clubhouse. Only Duquette never showed. Not long after being stood up, Moyer found out Duquette had traded him to the Seattle Mariners, where he would go on to make his first All-Star team and become the franchise's all-time winningest pitcher.
Flash forward to last fall. Moyer and the Orioles are negotiating and, Moyer thinks, close to a deal. Then on November 8, the Orioles announce that after a search that saw them rejected by nearly every capable candidate in baseball, they've hired Duquette. Suddenly, the offer to Moyer goes from promising to nearly non-existent.
"They said one thing one day and by the next it was completely different," he says. "They pulled a complete 180."
So Moyer, of course, reached a deal with the Rockies, made the team during spring training, and then signed for a very modest $1 million. Duquette and the Orioles opted instead for Tsuyoshi Wada, a promising left-hander from Japan who signed for $8 million and who, it was revealed Wednesday, is now out for the rest of the year because of an injury.
Which isn't to say that Duquette was wrong to pass on Moyer. Very few teams had faith that a 49-year-old could pitch well, especially after major surgery. And to everyone's surprise, under Duquette the Orioles have started the year 16-9. In a powerhouse division normally dominated by big-budget teams like the New York Yankees and Red Sox (and, of late, the spendthrift but smart Tampa Bay Rays), Baltimore has somehow found itself only one game out of first place.
So maybe Duquette knew what he was doing when he didn't sign Moyer. And maybe, after fourteen years of futility, this is finally the year the Orioles turn things around. Or maybe, to paraphrase the late great coach Chuck Tanner, you can't judge a team after only a month because baseball lasts a whole season -- and a season is a long time.
More from our Baseball archive: "49 things younger than 49-year-old Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer."
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